Heading into the season, this title was expected to be much more up for grabs between Northern Arizona and Southern Utah, but the Lumberjacks have shown that they are a step above the rest throughout the regular season.
The TSR #11 Northern Arizona Lumberjacks jumped to a 6th place finish at the Nuttycombe Invitational after a 5th place at the John McNichols Invitational. Led by Villanova transfer Taryn O’Neill and Mikayla Malaspina, the Lumberjacks have jumped into our NCAA Top 10 conversation.
O’Neill (TSR#40) finished 20th at the Nuttycombe Invitational and is the clear individual favorite in this race. Malaspina and Miranda Myers are also in the conversation for a top five finish and have done a terrific job supporting the middle portion of the scoring pack. Pipi Eitel and Hannah Behunin have been the final two scorers in both major meets this season.
It’s tough to overpraise this team after such wonderful performances. If there is a weakness overall, it’s the gap between their #3 and #4 runners which we saw develop at Nuttycombe. Even then, this team should be able to relax and cruise to a victory this weekend.
Southern Utah was expected to challenge NAU for the women’s title earlier in the season, but that has not been the case. The Thunderbirds were 4th at Roy Griak behind three strong teams in CBU, Columbia, and Minnesota. They then fell back to 28th at Nuttycombe.
Leading the charge individually is Alison Pray who was 42nd during her race in Wisconsin, right in line with Malaspina and Myers of Northern Arizona. Maddy Kauffman is the other big name for SUU after finishing 14th at Griak and performing well over the last few seasons. Kauffman was a DNF at Nuttycombe and if she could have stayed closer to Pray, then Southern Utah would have leaped up the team standings. Madison Fruchey, who stepped up to #2 scoring role at Nuttycombe, should also not be ignored.
Camilia Noe of Montana State finished 24th at the Pre-Nats Invitational to be the top BIG Sky competitor at the meet. Noe beat TSR ranked Jessica Drop and many other major names in that race.
June Eastwood of Montana is competing in her final season, but doing so after publicly coming out as the first NCAA DI transgender woman to compete in women’s cross country. In this race, Eastwood will become the first transgender woman to compete in a woman’s cross country conference championship meet. Eastwood has been very competitive, finishing 2nd at the Santa Clara Bronco Invitational and winning the University of Montana XC Invitational.
Abby Lawrence and Lexie Thompson of Weber State finished 35th and 39th at the Pre-National Invitational and should also contend within the top 10.
1. Northern Arizona
2. Southern Utah
3. Weber State
1. Taryn O’Neil (Northern Arizona)
2. Mikayla Malaspina (Northern Arizona)
3. Camille Noe (Montana State)
4. Alison Pray (Southern Utah)
5. June Eastwood (Montana)
6. Maddy Kauffman (Southern Utah)
7. Miranda Myers (Northern Arizona)
8. Abby Lawrence (Weber State)
9. Pipi Eitel (Northern Arizona)
10. Madison Fruchey (Southern Utah)
Anyone heard of Northern Arizona? I think they might be pretty good.
And by “pretty good” I mean possibly the greatest NCAA XC dynasty of all-time after their last four seasons.
The TSR #1 Northern Arizona Lumberjacks are absolutely loaded with talent and can probably take down any team in the NCAA even while resting a top five athlete (or two).
Sure enough, that is exactly what will happen this weekend. According to entries, the Northern Arizona men will not field top scorers Luis Grijalva (TSR #8), Blaise Ferro (TSR #43), or Abdi Nur (TSR #17) at the BIG Sky Championships. Instead, it will be Geordie Beamish (TSR #15) leading a squad that is looking to gain race experience and easily secure a conference title.
As difficult as it may be to believe, there are other teams in the BIG Sky. This includes TSR #24 Southern Utah. The Thunderbirds finished 13th at Nuttycombe in their most recent race, finishing ahead of both Notre Dame and Utah State. They also finished 2nd to Duke at Roy Griak earlier in the season.
Individually, Christian Ricketts is leading the way for Southern Utah after placing runner-up at Roy Griak and then 27th at Nuttycombe. Those results left Ricketts in the “Just Missed” section of our rankings. Ricketts is supported by Josh Collins who was 43rd in Wisconsin and 5th in Minnesota. Both results clearly leave him as a strong #2 guy who can challenge for a top spot this weekend.
The Wildcats of Weber State are also going to contend for the 2nd place spot this weekend. Weber State placed 9th at Pre-Nationals a few weeks ago, finishing just behind Villanova. They also finished 15th at Notre Dame behind Gonzaga.
Weber State seemingly lacks the firepower to challenge the likes of Southern Utah, but they still have great leaders in Taylor Dillon and Christian Allen. Jordan Cross should also play a key scoring role for the Wildcats on Saturday.
Collin Buck of Montana State will enter into the top 10 conversation at this meet. Buck placed 25th at Pre-Nats, just eclipsing the 24 minute barrier. He also finished 7th in the Paul Short Gold race.
1. Northern Arizona
2. Southern Utah
3. Weber State
1. Geordie Beamish (Northern Arizona)
2. Brodey Hasty (Northern Arizona)
3. Theo Quax (Northern Arizona)
4. Christian Ricketts (Southern Utah)
5. Drew Bosley (Northern Arizona)
6. Ryan Raff (Northern Arizona)
7. Collin Buck (Montana State)
8. Josh Collins (Southern Utah)
9. Cade Burks (Northern Arizona)
10. Sean Newcomb (Southern Utah)